dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Random Musings About Who-Knows-What

April 29th, 2016 · No Comments

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Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-ups and Far-Flung Fripperies:

  • Our angst about growth would lessen if people stopped moving here. If we build a wall, could we get California to pay for it?
  • It’s too bad restaurants seldom have Going Out of Business sales — not for the half-price hash browns, but for the opportunity to say proper good-byes.
  • We don’t strut often or well. With more practice, it would feel less awkward.
  • “Peerless” and “good-looking” should be opposites.
  • I’d like to meet a perfect stranger, assuming I’d be the same to them. My motivation is purely adjectival.
  • I heard from somebody that President Trump will ban shredded cheese. He’ll make America grate again.
  • Pace and perspective shape one another. For example, bicyclists see the town differently than motorists.
  • If you feel too busy, give some of your time away. It will remind you that each hour starts out being yours to use as you choose.
  • Do you think customers are given better service in cultures where “busy” is not part of their word for business?
  • I wonder how a comma could ever necessitate a question mark.
  • I wonder, how could a comma ever necessitate a question mark?
  • In single-family housing, height is often a proxy for class. Tall ceilings or even stairs feel like wasted space that the poor can’t afford.
  • That reminds me of my favorite lyric from Harry Chapin’s little-known musical, “Cotton Patch Gospel”: “He’s waitin’ for a call from the man upstairs, but he lives in a one-story house.”
  • After writing about zoning changes contemplated for parts of south Eugene, I understand better the visceral objection many of my neighbors feel, summed up with a single verb: “loom.”
  • Sharing beauty creates joy.
  • Algebra’s getting a bad name because algebra has a bad name. Call it “problem-solving” and the opposition melts away.
  • Conventional wisdom among political consultants says it’s rarely a good idea to convey a candidate’s political leanings on lawn signs. I notice only one local candidate has followed that practice. About the others, did they not receive that advice, or did they not accept it?
  • Just three generations ago, Americans were taller than people from almost every other country. Now we’re somewhere in the middle. That may be because the middle is getting larger — at least our middles are.
  • One under-appreciated aspect of the Panama Papers, which exposed thousands of off-shore tax havens: Hundreds of journalists, often working for competing companies, worked on the story with little oversight for over a year without a single leak.
  • Falling in love is like trying to relax — the harder you try, the harder it becomes.
  • We’re bad at endings because we refuse to practice.
  • Who got the last hairdo?

We interrupt this jaunt of jocularity to say, God bless our own Jack Roberts. This week, he gave the lie to three dishonest tropes in one fell swoop.

He refused to resign to avoid being fired. He refused to claim he wanted to spend more time with his family. And he detailed personnel issues as the probable cause of his termination, when most others would hide behind so-called confidentiality concerns.

Following Richard Lariviere’s unceremonious end as University of Oregon’s president, Eugene’s message to Salem: You can fire us, but you cannot frighten us.

  • If America really loved freedom, wouldn’t we be replacing stop signs with yield signs, instead of always the other way around?
  • We can forgive the know-it-all if the “all” in question is more than we originally knew.
  • You haven’t heard the term “benefit cliff,” but you will soon. It’s not good news.
  • We could help the addicts among us by not co-opting their terminology to describe our bad habits.
  • College once was the first chapter of adulthood. It’s become instead the last chapter of adolescence.
  • Neglect is often rejection with less courage.
  • Nobody else seems bothered when extroverts use reserved parking spaces.
  • The new Scholastic Aptitude Test take no longer penalizes wrong answers more than blanks. Lesson: take a guess, because doing something is usually better than doing nothing. (Can we get that message to the United States Congress?)
  • Trump l’oeil: where an artist creates an illusion of depth by drawing clear lines pointed toward an invented horizon.
  • A few words that lack any imagination: fireplace, antifreeze, refund, deodorant, Oldsmobile.
  • I bought a bottle of non-aspirin, just for the surprise of it. Inside could have been literally anything, except aspirin. I was disappointed. It should have been labeled Almost Aspirin.
  • While you weren’t watching, ice cube tray designers have made amazing technological strides.

Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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I Have a Problem With “No Problem”

April 22nd, 2016 · 14 Comments

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I have a problem with “No problem.”

“Thank you” and its variants are as old as language itself. Acknowledging and appreciating even the smallest exchange is part of the social lubricant that makes societies spin. Human transactions that are not anonymous have seldom been soulless.

“Thank you” affirms an emotional dimension to the simplest act, giving the actor an intangible token. Each good action, properly lubricated, makes subsequent good actions easier and more likely.

But what then comes next? Indo-European tradition offers two responses, dividing itself roughly in half. Southern cultures favored versions of Spanish “de nada” or Italian “di niente.” Each means, literally, “it’s nothing.”

Meanwhile, northern climes gravitated over centuries toward “you’re welcome” or the Germans’ “gern geschehen” — literally, “my pleasure.” “Willkommen” was German before it became English. Some linguists believe its oldest and first version meant, “Very well, come in.” Phrases are like nails — hit them often and they tend to shorten. “Welcome” entered our vocabulary — and the doormat industry was born.

There’s an overly simple explanation for this south/north division, but it may be partly true. People developed the habit of inviting people indoors to acknowledge appreciation, but only where it was cold outside. In places where the weather was warm and hardships may have been less physical, the deprecating “it’s nothing” made more sense.

Life has gotten easier over the last century. Combustion engines and Gore-Tex have made the cold less fearsome. ChapStick and Kleenex have made it less painful. Life conditions are more temperate now, even if the weather is not. When progress is made, language adapts.

But “no problem” overlearns the lesson.

Remember that this everyday courtesy begins with gratitude. Whether it’s for the smile, or the service, or simply for returning the correct change — a small expression of thanks has been offered, hoping to increase the frequency of similar actions.

“You’re welcome” or “my pleasure” returns the kindness with another kindness. If the opportunity repeated itself, the outcome would be the same. Even when the world seems cold, hospitality is available — “well, come in.”

Just as the thanks is meant to acknowledge the original act and affirm its actor, the response affirms the thanker — they’re worth the effort, the act was no fluke. A virtuous cycle of gratitude and affirmation has begun.

Compare that with the prevalent southern response. The originating actor can diminish (“it’s nothing,” “don’t mention it,”) or deny (“no trouble,” “no sweat”). But at least those responses don’t divert the attention from the original kindness.

“No problem” extends the denial response by changing its terms.

The gratitude was for the effort, the exchange, the exertion. If the reply insists there’s not a problem, it’s fair to wonder how a problem got added to this social equation. Why would you tell me it wasn’t a problem, unless it almost was — or might be, next time?

Consider the visceral, if not-quite-rational, response to “no problem.”

“Grateful as I may be, I’d like to avert any future problem for you, if I can. We might both be better off if I did my next exchange with somebody else — or, better yet, if I avoided any exchange at all. You know, just to be certain that there’s no problem.”

My hunch is that “no problem” may have been an adaptation of “no sweat.” Beatniks in the 1960s adopted “no sweat” as their go-to response. The war they were fighting over draft deferments and other upper-class entitlements was slowly lost and then forgotten.

Everybody now wants those upper class privileges, which include not sweating. In fact, sweat itself could now be seen as a problem. So “no sweat” became “no problem,” after stopping briefly at the surfer-dude’s “no worries.”

But there’s also this. “No problem” sounds suspiciously like a one-size-fits-all response — the tube socks of daily courtesy. But just like tube socks, they never fit well.

However inexact the response might be, it offers efficiency. Why learn one response to “thank you” and another to “I’m sorry,” when “no problem” can work for both?

The problem is, it works for neither.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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A Carbon Tax That’s Genuinely Revenue-Neutral

April 18th, 2016 · No Comments

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If there was a calendar of oxymorons, today would read, “Happy Tax Day!” When your accountant tells you there will be no additional taxes due, it means one of two things. Either the government kept more than its share of your earnings or you didn’t earn enough to merit their attention. It’s good news! It’s bad news! Happy Tax Day!

It’s like when a doctor reports on exploratory tests: “I’m happy to inform you, the results are negative.” Learning there’s nothing in there can be good news — anytime when it’s your body, but only for one day when it’s your cupboard of taxable earnings.

Tax is seldom the topic of choice among free adults, unless preceded by the modifier “too much.” We’d rather not think about taxes, thank you very much. One day every year is more than enough, but today is that day.

For that reason — and really, no other — let’s discuss how we might cure ourselves of our carbon addiction without bloating the government.

Most carbon tax proposals promise they are revenue neutral, but none suggest that each consumer would pay no more and no less for what they consume. That would produce no behavioral change, which is what any carbon tax is hoping to accomplish. But there is a way to change behavior without actually taking people’s money. Simply holding it for a little while is enough.

Researchers have shown that people respond very differently, depending on the circumstances, to identical economic impacts. In the most famous experiment, a person considers buying a ticket to a Broadway show for $40, then learns he has $40 less in his wallet than he expected. Almost everyone (88 percent) still buys the ticket.

In the second scenario, the $40 ticket is purchased, then lost — so the same value is subtracted from the vacation budget, but this time the value is emotionally attached to the show. Fewer than half (46 percent) buy a replacement ticket, even though the economics are exactly the same.

My carbon tax proposal would use this psychological anomaly, but in reverse. A carbon tax would be paid at the pump, but then refunded in full as an income tax credit. The check mailed to each of us would be based on recorded purchases throughout the previous year.

Even if we know we’ll get the money back, we’ll still feel a new pain when we’re buying stuff that’s damaging the planet. We’ll hesitate at precisely the moment when the planetary harm occurs, even though the money will be refunded to us.

If every American received their windfall check on Earth Day (April 22), the choices those checks represent — past and future — would be impossible to avoid. Imagine how many environmental groups would gear up to help people choose how to spend their refund on that day.

For the first time, every American would know how much their purchases have contributed to this environmental problem. What they choose to do about it would be entirely up to them.

If government leaders wanted to, they could shape those choices. Simply publishing the amount collected and then rebated each year would give the conversation a new and very personal data point. Everyone would know if they are consuming more or less than their neighbors. Nationwide consumption would be tracked, year to year.

Environmental organizations — or the government itself — could set up annuity-style investment funds for consumers. The pitch would go like this: “You can have every penny we collected from your carbon-based purchases mailed to you this April. Or, if you’d prefer, we’ll invest that money and return to you a check for twice that amount in 20 years, or triple the amount in 30. If you die before the investment matures, payment will be made instead to your heirs, according to your wishes.”

We’d be giving this generation the choice and the means to help the next generation adapt to whatever planetary changes may result from our habits of consumption.

If economists have learned anything over the past 50 years, it’s that nothing drives innovation and efficiency better than informed consumers — even if the test results are positively negative.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Zoning Plan Won’t Force Anyone

April 15th, 2016 · No Comments

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The red and white lawn signs have a simple message: “STOP FORCED REZONING!” Three words, five syllables, all caps, ending with an exclamation point. There’s not room on a lawn sign to address with any subtlety what changes the city’s planners have contemplated for the South Willamette Special Area Zone.

The signs point to a website (, where much more detail can be found, but casual observers may be satisfied with those five syllables. All sides of the controversy must agree that a fuller discussion is necessary. Although an op-ed essay provides only slightly more space than a lawn sign, let us begin.

REZONING – The changes being proposed concern the zoning classification of 474 properties, covering 122 acres centered on Willamette Street from 22nd and 33rd Avenues. Not all rezonings are created equal. The reclassification being proposed for these properties is what people call “upzoning.”

Rezoning is when your property was zoned for A, but now it’s zoned for B. Upzoning is where properties that were zoned to allow A will now be zoned to allow both B and A. Think of it like this. You bought a snowblower. You learn later that the same machine can be used as a rototiller. It’s no less of a snowblower for you every winter, and nobody will make you turn dirt with it in the spring. But now you know it can do that if you want it to.

None of the single-family homes identified would be forbidden from residential use. Tax assessments won’t change, unless the owner converts the property to a different use. Everything can stay exactly the same, if that’s what each property owner chooses. Home improvements would still be allowed, so long as any expansion amounts to less than 30 percent of the structure.

FORCED – The proposed changes would add new options, but nobody is being forced to do anything. Current owners have more constraints now than they would if the changes were adopted. As things currently stand, owners are forced to stay the same and not change what they do with their land.

If you go to the movie theater, you buy a ticket and you choose your seat. If somebody sits near you with popcorn, you’re not allowed to ask them to move because you don’t like the smell.

You might have chosen that row of seats because there were no popcorn eaters, just as you bought a house on a quiet residential street. But in each instance, you only paid for the small portion you can control. Selling your house is much harder than finding a different theater seat, but any changes in your neighborhood will not happen overnight — and they might not end up being as bad as you expect.

STOP – This insinuates there’s a “GO” somewhere. City staff considers the proposal’s status as “on a time out.” There is no current plan to bring the issue to the Eugene City Council, where decisions will ultimately be made.

Maybe you can stop something that’s already paused, but the effect of the change hardly merits an exclamation point. The city’s direct role will always be minimal. The city owns very little property in the affected area. No properties are targeted to be razed. No special tax breaks are being considered.

How the area around 29th Avenue and Willamette Street grows and changes slowly over time will be up to the people who have invested their money and pride to make it their home or where they do their business.


I’m not suggesting the specifics of the proposed Special Area Zone for South Willamette are perfect — far from it. Defining setbacks, protecting viewscapes, and preventing any caverns of hardscape monotony can all be improved.

Residents and property owners in and near the area can improve on the work the city has done so far, if or when that discussion resumes. And if the hope is that this plan provides a template for thoughtful improvements across the city, everyone will be grateful for conversations much deeper than any five syllables — or these 700 words in response — can convey.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Learn Tug of War Strategy to Understand Politics

April 8th, 2016 · No Comments

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Tug of War was an Olympic sport until 1920. Reviving the sport would teach us important lessons that we may not have learned in high school about physics, social psychology, and political science.

The nuance of Tug of War strategy can explain President Obama’s latest Supreme Court pick, how journalists unwittingly aid extremists, and what’s at stake in the upcoming Eugene mayoral election.

You may not have known there was strategy to Tug of War, much less nuance within that strategy. That’s because sports commentators haven’t been filling air time every four years to explain it to you. Instead, you’ve got me.

The contest may seem straightforward enough — tug harder than the other team. But there’s more to it than that. Since the opposing players are gripped to the rope, their mass is added to what your force must overcome. Theoretically, two teams of equal strength (force) will favor the side with more weight (mass).

But even that’s not the whole story. Winning Tug of War at the highest level involves rhythmic effort, strategically alternating between hangs (rest) and pulls.

Strength, mass, and strategic vision are not distributed randomly along the line. The largest player is typically the “anchor” at the end, and the smallest player is usually the first of several “heavers” at the front. This allows each player to see the opposing team, with each team’s first heaver leading the effort.

A successful line uses three different athletic skills — the mental and physical agility of a sprinter on one end, brute muscle of a weightlifter at the other, with marathoners’ endurance holding the middle. You need all three.

The biggest strategic blunder a tug-of-warrior can make is to attempt a larger step than his strength and circumstances warrant. Any athlete’s sudden loss of control can quickly ripple through the line and doom the team effort. Small moves in quick succession achieve most and risk least.

Tug of War strategy can be applied to the nation’s highest court.

Liberals have faulted President Obama for choosing Merrick Garland, the well-respected chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to replace conservative firebrand Antonin Scalia. They were hoping Obama would replace a conservative anchor with a liberal one.

Ironically, the diminutive Ruth Bader Ginsburg has anchored the political left in the Supreme Court’s recent terms. What the liberal team lacks is a reliable first heaver — someone who can see eye-to-eye with Justice Anthony Kennedy or Chief Justice John Roberts.

If Kennedy or especially Roberts can be peeled away from the court’s now-anchorless political right, liberals can control more than its rulings. The court’s agenda is set at conference, where it takes only four votes to accept a case to be argued. By Supreme Court tradition, the newest member of the court votes last. A less reliable liberal can wield more power in this setting.

Other strategic factors in Obama’s choice have been barely noted. Garland, 63, is roughly the same age as Roberts, 61. Garland and Roberts are former colleagues, having served together on the D.C. Circuit for two years. And Garland’s current role as chief judge closely resembles Roberts’s current administrative duties. Seeing eye-to-eye — on any level — can bring competitive advantages.

Many of those advantages are invisible to casual observers and to many in the media. Battles are won most often in the close quarters of the middle, but what happens on the edges is easier to observe and describe. Journalists naturally tell the best stories they can. Statistics show extremists of every stripe draw outsized coverage.

Finally, consider a different panel of nine members, representing many points on the political spectrum. Chief Justice Roberts is first among equals on the Supreme Court. On the Eugene City Council, the mayor is last among equals, voting only to break a tie.

If Mike Clark is elected mayor, who will become the conservatives’ new anchor? If a reliable progressive is elected instead, how might alliances shift among its left-leaning centrists — those councilors who consider themselves heavers?

And you thought Tug of War was only a picnic game.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Pranking the Polls

April 1st, 2016 · 2 Comments

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Published in the Register-Guard on April 1, 2016

You may have read recently about long lines of people waiting to vote. It strikes us in Oregon as unthinkable, both morally and logically, to wait in line for five hours to cast our yeas and nays. That was the price of citizenship some paid last month during Arizona’s presidential primary.

Voting is important, but it needn’t be arduous. Oregon voters proved that in 1998, when we passed a ballot measure directing all elections to be conducted by mail. We’re leading the way again this year, with the nation’s first motor-voter law. Oregon became the first state in the nation to implement automatic voter registration at the DMV.

Oregon is a respected leader in expanding access to voting. Unfortunately, many states are moving in the opposite direction. Poll taxes and literacy tests are no longer legal, but new barriers to voting are being dreamed up to take their place.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 21 states have put new voting restrictions into place since the 2010 election. These include strict new voter ID requirements, shortened early voting periods, the elimination of same-day registration, and fewer polling stations. In almost every instance, the new rules were enacted by Republican legislative majorities and/or Republican governors.

In Oregon, we can sit idly by and watch, waiting for our ballots to arrive in the mail so we can fulfill our civic duty without taking off our slippers. But today is April Fools’ Day and we have another reputation to protect. How might Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters have reacted to these anti-democratic initiatives in other states?

Celebrating April Fools’ Day during an election year poses special challenges. Making crank phone calls to strangers, posting embarrassing messages on neighbors’ front lawns, or ringing doorbells and running — these forms of childish mischief could be mistaken for political campaigning.

I needed help. So I called my favorite juggler and street performer to hatch a swing-state prank for November. Rhys Thomas lives in Portland now, but he grew up in Crow. His stepfather was a chief firefighter in rural Lane County. Thomas returns to the Willamette Valley often to visit cousins or to perform his Jugglemania act at the Oregon Country Fair.

Looking those long lines of voters in Arizona, Thomas saw two things. “It’s a farce,” Thomas told me, “and I know something about farces.” But then he saw something else, something more enticing — a captive audience.

Could Oregon export a small army of buskers to key precincts in swing states, where voting might require standing around for hours? We couldn’t make their lines move faster, but we could make the wait more enjoyable! What if clowns could make those long lines into impromptu street parties?

It would attract TV cameras, quickly becoming the talk of the town. A few extra people might show up to vote, with many fewer leaving in frustration. That, in turn, would make some powerful people very unhappy, which is exactly what a good prank should do.

Political speech is strictly forbidden near polling places, but that won’t be a problem. In fact, it could make it all the more fun. “I have a bit that involves a combover,” Thomas offered. “Would that be political speech?” Watching the regulators trying to regulate could easily become part of the show. Can you find the clown in this picture?

“People appreciate having someone to laugh with, instead of just at. A larger audience has a more participatory dynamic,” according to Thomas — it’s just more fun for everyone.

Thomas estimated he could round up several dozen performers. All we need is an eccentric billionaire with a SuperPAC, who would be willing to underwrite travel expenses. A quick trip in November to mostly southern states, performing for people who are stuck in line for hours on end — that doesn’t sound like a tough sell. “Would it be a problem if some of the performers were from Canada?” Thomas asked.

Then he answered his own question, “Nah, that might be good. Depending on how the election turns out, people might be glad to know somebody in Canada.”


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Does Kitzhaber Like Trump’s Approach?

March 25th, 2016 · No Comments

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Now that former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber has ended his self-imposed exile from public life, I wonder what he thinks about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. It’s a serious question.

Kitzhaber told Oregon Public Broadcasting last week, “I am looking for a way to contribute. I’m also trying to figure out what my career path from a financial standpoint is going to be. And as I said, I do think that will involve some consulting.”

As political consultants go, few have done as much or pondered as deeply how politics is currently practiced. Kitzhaber found plenty not to like about modern American politics. He might appreciate certain ways that the Republican frontrunner has defied conventional wisdom.

As a lifelong Democratic policy wonk, Kitzhaber probably abhors Trump’s position on almost every issue. But Trump’s refusal to churn out position papers might be useful to Kitzhaber’s nascent consultancy business.

When Kitzhaber left politics the first time in 2003, he despaired publicly that Oregon had become ungovernable. But he went on to explain why and how governance had become difficult, if not impossible. Those observations during his hiatus from elected office deserve attention today.

Here’s how he put it in a mid-2008 blog posting: “We cannot solve complex problems like the crisis in the U.S. health care system through the kind of polarized ‘transactional’ politics which dominate our current political system. These problems are about us and they cannot be solved unless we do it together; unless we can create new tools and a new space in which we can engage one another as citizens, in which we can agree on how to move forward as a community.”

His musings often came back to that word, “transactional.” As a doctor-turned-politician, he may have been the first to accurately diagnose the fever that has been rampaging through our body politic. Maybe that fever is about to break.

American poet Robert Frost despaired for culture at the dawn of the television age when he wrote, “Anymore, people don’t think; they vote.” If poet-philosopher Kitzhaber wanted a brochure headline for his consultancy business, he could update Frost’s thinking for the post-television age: “Anymore, people don’t vote; they shop.”

Voters go to the polls to get what they believe is — or should be — theirs. They don’t concern themselves with what might help others, or how to move forward as a community. They want to claim their piece — not of the puzzle, but of the pie.

Politicians used to travel with a copy of the Constitution in their pockets, a reminder of their pledge to guard the greater good. Today they may as well carry around a shopping list of government goodies that voters can enjoy but somehow not pay for.

Election campaigns focus more and more heavily on the specific benefits to be delivered to a carefully defined audience. Free college is highlighted for one group, protected Medicare to another, better jobs or more affordable housing to others. What other exercise of salesmanship can tailor its pitch and tabulate its results with such precision?

Kitzhaber believed not very long ago — and maybe he still does — that political leadership cannot be reduced to consumer concierge. An effective campaign that doesn’t offer endless promises sets the stage for a governing politic that can be less transactional.

Content and character notwithstanding, Trump’s campaign seems to be accomplishing some of that. He runs his campaign rallies with the tone and tempo of a faith healer, except the benefits he offers in return for devotion are purposely vague. Yes, there’s a wall, but it’s not like he’s promising his supporters’ names engraved on each brick.

Whatever Trump is offering his followers, it’s more abstract than the transactional politics that otherwise dominates the scene. Trump proves you can win votes with few tangible promises.

If bigotry and xenophobia can be inflamed among the electorate, why not bravery and comity? Those traits may not be gurgling just below the surface of our citizenry, but they’re in there somewhere.

Freed from transactional politics, a good leader could tap that well of our better selves, coached by a good consultant.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Lifetime Calling Gives Courage to Dissent

March 18th, 2016 · No Comments

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I attended two memorial services last month in Washington, DC, eight days apart. Each person being celebrated had a profound impact on national and world politics, while seldom commanding or leading a majority. Each lived and died by their own beliefs about what’s right for them and for others. Only one has a name you’ll recognize.

I stood in line with hundreds of others outside the Supreme Court to pay respects to Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. I waited for entry beside a constitutional law professor who admitted he “wanted to be sure the S.O.B. was dead,” but he was joking. The women ahead of me might have known Scalia from the church he attended. Behind me was a family with grown children, saying almost nothing and looking very sad.

Apart from a steady stream of people with notepads or television cameras, there was not the slightest scent of politics in the air. Protesters, who are omnipresent in front of the nation’s highest court, were absent or farther removed than usual. The line to get inside moved slowly and solemnly. Decorum was the order of the day.

Inside the court’s Great Hall, observers snaked their single-file respect around the casket and beside the flower arrangements, sent from the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, the White House, and a long list of dignitaries. The closed casket was attended by six men. I learned later that dozens of Scalia’s former law clerks took turns at this duty throughout the day. Wicker chairs were quietly being set up for family as I passed. People paused to take pictures. Those behind them waited silently and patiently.

Eight days later, I arrived at a church a few blocks northeast of the White House. A couple hundred activists gathered on a coolish Saturday morning to pay respects to Concepcion Picciotto. If you’ve ever walked past the White House, you know Concepcion — she insisted you call her Connie, and that you help her — by her work.

Connie and her helpers maintained the longest public vigil in the history of this country. For 35 years, she maintained a protest against nuclear weapons. If you ever stopped to take a photo of the White House, with its lawn fountains centered in front of the facade, Connie, her tarp, and her signs were directly behind you.

Park rangers have rules for what’s allowed in Lafayette Park, visible from the front door of the White House. No sleeping, no camping, no fires, no generators, no unattended belongings, no permanent structures, etcetera, etcetera. Connie and her supporters abided by every rule, remaining in place for days, weeks, months, years, decades, and now generations. No one has visited the White House since 1981 and not received her message.

Her lawyer at the service said it with jarring simplicity: “She kept death alive. There would be no numbness from killing with Connie around.” The specter of life on this planet being completely extinguished — an end with still only one means — must not be tolerated. Connie’s marathon intolerance of that possibility ended on January 25, 2016. She was 80 years old.

Scalia died at 79. He served 30 years on the United States Supreme Court, after being appointed by President Reagan to Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1982. Both Scalia and Picciotto accepted lifetime appointments when they were 45 years old. In an age when even the papacy is rethinking lifetime appointments, there are lessons to be learned from these two.

Our society once was built around “calling.” Whether your life’s work was working for the railroad of tending the family farm, preaching the Gospel or selling brushes door-to-door, the question was settled. You would do what you do, and you would keep doing it. Retirement became a concept only very recently. Until less than a century ago, it was enjoyed by few, rarely mentioned, and never embraced.

It’s safe to imagine that neither of these people ever considered retirement. They embraced their calling, voiced dissent as they believed right, sometimes abused those who differed with them, and died with their proverbial boots on.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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An Argument Against Single-Payer Health Care

March 11th, 2016 · 1 Comment

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Before the latest Bernie Sanders boomlet dissipates, let me surprise you with a little bit of researched anti-socialism. The United States is uniquely committed to providing health care to most of its working-age citizens through their employers. This is not the most efficient method of delivering health care, but it may well be the most effective.

Sen. Sanders and his supporters claim that they’ve run the numbers and a single-payer system would cost less money. They insist they’ve completed their cost-benefit analysis, but all they’ve really done is a cost tally and no analysis. Our employer-based health care delivery system adds benefits they haven’t measured — but others have.

Over 95 percent of large employers in the United States were providing their full-time employees with health care coverage before the Affordable Care Act became law. Most small businesses wished they could do the same, but their premiums were on average almost 20 percent higher than large companies. Smaller risk pools caused higher insurance rates.

Health care exchanges have removed that competitive disadvantage for small businesses. That’s good, because two-thirds of all net, new private-sector jobs are created by small businesses.

But we skipped a step. Why did large businesses provide health care coverage in the first place, when they could have used that money to pay higher wages instead? Understanding those benefits will show what we’d risk losing if we switched to a single-payer system.

An attractive benefits package is perceived by current and prospective employees as more valuable than its cash value. Health care coverage can give a company an edge when hiring.

Recruiting and training workers is expensive, so companies save money with every employee who doesn’t have to be replaced. A 2004 study by the Corporate Leadership Council measured that benefit. Adding health insurance as an employee benefit reduced staff turnover by 87 percent.

The same CLC study also saw a 20 percent improvement in job performance after health care was added to an employee’s benefit package. Some productivity increases are easy to attribute to the benefit, but other advantages are less obvious. Workers get preventative care more often when their out-of-pocket expense is minimal.

It’s cheaper to keep people healthy than it is treat their sicknesses. But it may not be their own fever or cough that’s slowing them down. It might be their daughter’s fever or cough. If they were up all night, worrying how they would pay for another doctor visit, or whether they should go to the emergency room, their productivity at work will plummet.

Worry is a kind of invisible illness. If somebody is worried sick, they really are sick. It affects their work.

The obverse is also true, but in this case more important. When an employee feels taken are of, they are more productive. Security sprouts as gratitude. Inside this subtle dynamic lies the largest benefit we’d lose if we switched to a single-payer system.

As things are currently designed, employees feel grateful for their health care coverage to their employers. This produces tangible benefits for the employer, but additional benefits ripple out into the community.

Employees who feel secure will work harder, stay longer, and learn more about the work they do. They accept more responsibility, they earn more money, they settle down and they grow — personally and professionally. Many of those benefits redound to their employer and to the community where they live and work.

If workers feel grateful instead to the government, how are they likely to express that natural sense of indebtedness? Will they cheat less on their taxes? Will they vote more? Speed less? If they credit government for underwriting their doctor visit, there’s not much upside for society.

A single-payer system would reduce the cost of delivering health care benefits, but it also would reduce the societal benefits that flow from job security and satisfaction. If our goal is to root people in their communities and build a great society, the system we have right now provides the foundation for what works best.


Don Kahle ( blogs at

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Uncle Phil and President Schill: Woo, Then Renew

March 11th, 2016 · No Comments

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The University of Oregon and mega-donor Phil Knight should declare a one-year separation — mutual, amiable, and temporary. To focus on their individual goals and to strengthen their relationship in the long run, they should spend some time seeing other people.

The university’s money woes can’t be solved by one donor, no matter how deep his pockets are.

University of Oregon’s Board of Trustees last week decided that a substantial tuition increase was the only reasonable response to the state’s ongoing disinvestment in higher education. University of Oregon President Michael Schill set the stage for the budget decision by announcing 100 instructor positions will be terminated to balance the books. Real estate may be unloaded to raise some quick cash.

All sides on campus will happily debate whether these choices are necessary, but nobody would suggest they’re not difficult. Schill is earning respect for the impossibly long hours he works. He tempers the bad news he’s delivering by not hurrying those who complain. He’s showing promise as a fundraiser and seems to relish his role as champion for shoring up the university’s academic standing.

Schill understands that philanthropic support for the university cannot only deepen — it also must widen. More seven-digit donors — those who have never given a million dollars, but who could — gives the university stability and stature.

Modest millionaires would benefit from a year in the university’s celebratory spotlight, without being overshadowed by a certain benevolent billionaire.

There are others who would like Knight’s attention.

In Salem, fifteen state senate seats and all 60 seats of the Oregon House of Representatives will be filled by voters this November. All of the statewide races and more than the usual number of legislative seats will be competitive this year.

Oregon’s new motor voter law will alter the profile of eligible voters this fall in ways no one can predict. Nobody knows what sort of bedlam will be unleashed on voters at the top of the ticket in this presidential election year.

Oregon has roughly 200 incumbent or aspiring lawmakers who are wondering whether their next Thanksgiving dinner will be served with congratulations or condolences. Making friends with a billionaire would make their day.

Knight should ask each of them to do their part to rebuild the Oregon’s reputation — for both its flagship university and the state itself.

The playbook was affirmed in Salem last week. The vision of TrackTown USA’s Vin Lananna, coupled with the determination of Rep. Nancy Nathanson, produced what everyone expects will be a $25 million statewide investment in Eugene’s audacious bid to host the IAAF World Championships in 2021. Lawmakers had to be convinced, one by one, that helping the University of Oregon would help the entire state.

If lawmakers could support a nine-day track meet that’s five years away, how hard would it be to convince them that more and better college graduates with fewer student loans would be better for their constituents? If Knight maintains his current philanthropic pace, but focused on Salem, what sort of long-term solutions could emerge in time for the next legislative session?

Knight should seek a statewide commitment to the University of Oregon that is long-lasting and irreversible — not unlike the 30-year tax break he won for Nike during a special legislative session in 2012.

Nike is nothing if not clever. They can design solutions that will make every Oregonian proud — solutions that should outlast us all.

For example, we know Uncle Phil likes to build buildings. We also know that Salem’s storied capitol building is in desperate need of seismic upgrades. How many lawmakers would be willing to reverse the funding trends for Oregon higher education if one certain donor helped buttress the roof over their heads?

If Knight spends the rest of this year lavishing lawmakers instead of his alma matar, he and the university can renew their vows to each other in 2017.

Knight will have leveraged his statewide influence to ensure his legacy. Schill will have made many new millionaire friends. Both sides will enjoy lasting benefits from the university’s temporary Phil-fast.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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